"I have come home," Milan Baroš said after making his comeback appearance for FC Baník Ostrava on Saturday, with thousands coming to greet the celebrated former Liverpool FC and Galatasaray AŞ striker ahead of the 0-0 draw against SK Dynamo České Budějovice.
Some 11 years after he left the club, Baník fans they had not forgotten their local hero, celebrating his return by holding up cards at the Bazaly Stadium to make up a huge picture of his No27 shirt. A UEFA Champions League winner with the Reds in 2004/05, he came off the bench after 69 minutes to a rapturous reception, with fans chanting his name long before he crossed the touchline.
"It was fantastic, it is a great motivation for me," said the 31-year-old, five-goal top scorer at UEFA EURO 2004 with the Czech Republic. "The crowd got behind us for the whole match – I have to thank them a lot. I also hope that next time we will give them more to celebrate."
For all his experience, Baroš admitted to feeling nervous as he watched from the bench. "I had butterflies in my stomach during the first half," he said, having not played a competitive game this season going into the match. "That has not happened to me for a long time. I am glad these feelings came as they mean that I still enjoy football 100%."
Baroš has agreed to put his Baník wages directly into the club’s youth system, but is still not quite ready to start a match. "We agreed with the coach that I would come on for 25 minutes," he said. "To make up for my lack of fitness, I will be training twice a day a few times in the next few weeks. [When I get to start a game] will depend on how my body responds to that workload. I hope it will be soon."
Baník are at the wrong end of the Czech table for the moment, but Baroš hopes he can help raise spirits. "We need a psychological lift; to win a few games and to get away from relegation zone," he explained. "I am sure this team has quality to manage that." Goalkeeper Michal Bárta , 23, is already feeling inspired. "It is a tremendous motivation for us younger players to have Milan Baroš in the same dressing room," he said. "We closely follow all the advice he gives us."
Martin Pulpit, meanwhile, is urging fans to be patient. "We can tell from what we saw in midweek training that Milan is someone who has played at the highest European level, but after a long break, he needs time – three or four matches - to return to the shape in which fans remember him." The coach could do with a more speedy recovery, with a visit to Czech league leaders – and UEFA Europa League contenders – FC Viktoria Plzeň next up for his side.
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